April 9, 2008
The Honorable Oklahoma Speaker of the House
Representative Chris Benge
Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 North Lincoln Boulevard
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Dear Mr. Speaker,
I am the father of Nicholas Rohde, a 10 year old autistic boy from Edmond, Ok. You might know him as the boy commonly referred by the legislation as Nick’s Law. As a registered Republican, I am ashamed of the actions of the Chairman and the coordinated effort of the House Leadership today to suppress public debate, input, and necessary comment on Nick’s Law.
What happened today was a great travesty and injustice in the House of Representatives. It gives me no pleasure to ask you, the House Leadership, and Chairman Ron Peterson for a formal apology regarding the way in which parents and family members were treated in the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee Hearing this week.
I am also extremely displeased with your actions to cancel a scheduled meeting with a group of parents on Thursday. We were not given the opportunity to reschedule and were not provided a reason for the cancellation. It is very suspicious the cancellation came at the same time you called for a caucus meeting.
The Chairman announced that the committee would hear comment and allowed public debate for every bill that was considered today in the committee except for one, SB 1059 presented by Rep Daniel Sullivan. It was obvious that a coordinated effort was in place to not allow any public comment on the original bill nor allowing committee members to question the House author of the bill. It was very apparent me sir, that the members of my party were not happy with what was about to happen. Most were looking down or not engaging the parents and other public. I demand that you stop the type of action that was displayed by the chair. It is not healthy for our state government and it gave the public a very bad display of how our elected officials conduct the peoples business.
As several committee members stated after the hearing, “It was a very sad day at the Capitol.” “We disgraced the House today,” was another quote.
The Chairman violated his own policy of allowing public comment. Several local TV stations have recorded the actions of the chair and the vice chair. Public debate or member questions on the original bill, were not allowed except for a motion to do pass the legislation. Many members and public guests left the committee room after the proceedings truly disgusted.
I would like to remind you sir of what happened last week with the Cherokee Chief who was denied the opportunity to speak in a separate committee. One of the freedoms that all citizens cherish is the ability to speak to our elected officials. When the general public’s ability to speak to our legislators is denied because of pure political gain, then those legislators have broken the trust that we have placed in them to speak for us.
Chairman Peterson continued to disgrace his office by leaving the committee hearing not wanting to address the many parents on his actions. As most of us followed him to his office, he clearly did not want to talk to the parents. Rather than address the parents and answer questions, he locked the door to his office to prevent his constituents from talking with him. Closing the door to discuss matters with individuals can be and will always be respected. But when a legislator locks the doors to his office, he has clearly stepped over the line. The media have reported on this fact and the story has now been released on the AP.
Mr. Speaker, for the last several months, we have directed our ever growing number of parents and family members to respect the office and the legislative process of committees. We have been polite and courteous to all members, recognizing them as our elected officials. We have complied with this process for every step of Nick’s Law. However, when a legislator or the House Leadership clearly does not respect the citizens and voters of this state, then we have the situation that you find yourself in today.
For the last two years, I have personally met with many of the legislators and provided information on autism, the costs associated with this epidemic, and what will happen to the state of Oklahoma if we continue on our current path. I have traveled to their local districts this past summer and fall, or met with them at the capitol. Some of the legislators would not accept the data, facts, and studies that show the related costs associated with insurance coverage of autism. But most of them have embraced this epidemic and wanted to become more educated. Most of the legislators were startled on the financial devastation of the family, and the upcoming financial nightmare when the state has to start paying for the care of these children who will soon be eligible as adults for state welfare.
Chairman Peterson is quoted not less than 12 times in the past 2 weeks stating that he is concerned about the costs associated with Nick’s Law. He is convinced that this legislation will increase the number of the uninsured. He states that he does not want the number of uninsured to go up. Mr. Speaker, I have sent him the necessary information several times over the course of the last 8 months. Today, he stated that he wants to study this issue. He refused to allow a public hearing to discuss this measure. He refuses to accept a meeting to discuss the data, yet in a matter of a couple minutes, the staff can produce an unsubstantiated figure of $ 6 million dollars that the state will have to pay for the cost of covering state employees.
Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that there are now 18 states that have some form of insurance coverage for autism. Arizona just passed this legislation last month. Indiana was the first in the nation in 2001. The Insurance Commission established a study group to monitor the costs of mandates in 2002. They have reported as of last month, there has been no increase in health care insurance premiums related to autism insurance, nor any increases in the number of uninsured. Yet, Chairman Peterson conveniently forgets this information in his public statements.
I am willing to have a personal meeting with you and the chairman to discuss this in greater detail. I look forward to having a meeting with you in the next couple of days and receiving a formal apology regarding the actions of the House Leadership and Chairman Peterson.